Minutes of meeting between boaters, CRT and Michelle Donelan MP published

We are now able to publish the minutes of the meeting between liveaboard boaters, Michelle Donelan MP and CRT Chief Executive Richard Parry. The meeting was minuted by Wiltshire Council’s Peter Dunford, Community Engagement Manager for Bradford on Avon. Also included is a record of the discussions. You can download them here:

Meeting with MP and CRT 170616

Meeting 17-06-2016 MP-CRT-boaters-record of discussion

Minutes of Meeting with Canal & RiverTrust and Michelle Donelan MP

17 June 2016 at Youth and Community Centre, Bradford on Avon

Key attendees

Michelle Donelan MP and staff members

Richard Parry, Chief Executive, and Matthew Symonds, Boating Manager, C&RT

Councillor Alison Craddock, Bradford on Avon Town Council (Mayor)

Councillor Magnus Macdonald, Chairman Bradford on Avon Area Board, Wiltshire Council

Tracey Dunn, Headteacher, Fitzmaurice Primary School

Paul Falkus, Headteacher Bathampton Primary School

Sam Worrall, Julian House, Boater and Traveller Welfare Officer

Daniella, Wendy, Jassy, Panda and other boaters

Jim Lynch, BoACAN

Key issues raised

British Waterways Act 1995 does not specify the distance to be travelled for boats without a home mooring. Boaters must demonstrate there are bone fide continuous cruisers, moving to a new location every 14 days and a minimum distance of 15- 20 miles in a single direction.

The law is purposefully vague in this area. The pattern of movement over a calendar year is monitored and C&RT say there are allowances made for periods of relatively high or low travel within a 12 month period.

The Local Mooring Plan identifies neighbourhoods between which boaters can measure their distance travelled. The interpretation of the law has been tightened and more rigorously enforced since 2014 with 6 month restricted licences being issued to boaters who fail to meet the minimum requirement for movement. Warnings are given that unless they comply with the regulation they could lose their license (and therefore their home).

Boaters feel victimised and are living in fear. They say that reminder notices are being issued “by computer” and they would like more “human discretion” to be exercised.

A particular issue arises for boaters with children because the C&RT says the law makes no allowances for attendance at school. Boats are sometimes many miles from school and the children have to travel large distances, sometimes alone, meaning they are often late, tired and muddy from the towpath.

During term time the boaters would like flexibility to stay close to the school. During holidays they are happy to travel longer distances to comply with the law. They avoid “shuttling” back and forth as this is unlawful.

Richard Parry stated that the C&RT make special allowances for boaters in need of medical treatment, pregnancy etc but that boaters choose to live on boats and the law makes no allowance for children attending school.

The headteachers present stressed the duty of care they have to all their children and the benefits of attending school over home tuition. The boater children are special in their own right and bring a new perspective to the classroom. It is Government policy that parents can be fined if their child misses a day’s schooling.

Michelle Donelan asked C&RT to interpret the spirit of the law humanely when it came to children. The numbers of boats with children at school is a small minority of the total live-aboard population and so it must be possible to flag up on the license records where a more tolerant enforcement of the law could be expected.

Julian House reported on the work they do with vulnerable adult boaters suffering from issues such as depression, isolation, disability, poverty and mental illness.

The Town Council and BoACAN talked about the contribution that the boaters make to community life in Bradford on Avon and how this co-operation was an exemplar for other parts of the waterways network to learn from. A Supporters Alliance was being formed along the Kennet and Avon Canal, starting with a Benefit Evening in The Three Horseshoes in BoA on Wednesday 6th July, where there will be a viewing of ‘Off the Cut’ and music by ‘Calico Jack’

Agreed Actions

C&RT to adopt more sensitive management of boater families with children attending school, to allow less movement in term times offset by greater movement in holiday times

A portfolio of boater “problem cases” to be collated for Michelle Donelan’s attention

Further home moorings to be designated by the public authorities

Note taken by Peter Dunford


 

Meeting between CRT, Michelle Donelan MP, Wiltshire Council and boat dwellers without home moorings

17th June 2016, BoA Youth and Community Centre

Record of discussion

Present:

Jim Lynch (Chair, Bradford on Avon Community Area Network)

Michelle Donelan MP, Caroline Ramsey (Senior Caseworker), and other staff/interns

Boaters: Wendy Zakiewicz, Jassy Powles, Daniella Carozza, Pamela Smith (Chair of National Bargee Travellers Association)

CRT: Richard Parry (CEO), Matthew Symonds

Wiltshire Council: Cllr Magnus Macdonald) (Chair Bradford on Avon Area Board, Cllr Alison Craddock (Mayor Bradford on Avon), Peter Dunford (Community Area Manager).

Paul Falkus: Head, Bathampton Primary School; Tracey Dunn: Head, Fitzmaurice Primary School

Martin Gilmore (Chaplain)

Sam Worrall and Lindsay Hughes (Julian House Travelling Community Support Service)

Richard Hill (Wiltshire Times)

MD We have to get this resolved. Clarity is needed about what is and is not acceptable, and what the rules are and are not. I’ve spoken to both sides, there’s been miscommunication, we need to address better communication so that people are not worried about losing their ‘house’. I want to put a stop to that worry.

WZ CRT can’t specify how far we must move, and they say so. I made the film because of my friend Bev who was made homeless; each year CRT have changed the goalposts. First we had the neighbourhoods when you had to moor in a specific number of neighbourhoods, then it was 15 miles, this year it’s 15 to 20 miles; some have travelled over 15 miles (eg 19.75 miles) and have still been told it’s not enough. This week someone who’d travelled 32 miles was refused 12month renewal and told they would only be given a 6 month licence. My family feel under constant threat. We move every 14 days (actually more often, we move on average every 7 days). It’s not that we don’t want to move. We had a warning letter. Our children are in primary school, we are limited in term time to 4 miles each side of the school as the children cycle to school. We do our bigger distance in school holidays, mainly summer but we’ve been told that’s not good enough. Our licence starts on 1st September; CRT do not count the movement you do in the last 2 months of your licence; this is when we travel the furthest but it’s not even counted. We are being discriminated against because of that. We follow the law and we’re being criminalised.

MD Key points are clarity, children, the practicalities, and making allowance for people with children.

RP There’s no attempt to discount summer holiday travels. There are two categories of licence: home mooring and no home mooring; witout a home mooring you must satisfy us that you are using the boat bona fide for navigation. There was uncertainty in the minds of those who wrote the law; they deliberately wanted this done on a case by case basis. We wrote the guidelines some years ago [2004] to provide clarity. Now in our view a range of less than 1520 miles is unlikely to be considered bona fide navigation. Our responsibilities are to manage the waterways. It’s our considered, consistent view that if you can travel this distance you are bona fide navigating. We’ve gone further than the law requires of us in providing this clarity.

MD Will there le leeway if families travel in the school holidays?

RP We don’t take children into account one way or the other. We do respond to Equality issues. Children in school are a longterm issue. Equality adjustments are of a shorter duration.

MD Are you saying that if they move much less in term time and more in the holidays that’s ok?

RP It depends on the pattern of movement. It’s not impossible.

JP In the last year and a half we have been made to have 6-month licences. We’ve been continuously cruising with children in school for 7 years and we’ve had no problems until last year. It looks bad on your part. I heard what you said before.

RP I have to explain our position. Prior to 2013 there was not a consistent way of enforcement. Boat numbers have increased and it’s a higher profile issue. We put in place an interim plan in 2014 which made it clear it was to encourage people to start moving. Instead of revoking a licence, we gave them a 6-month licence to help them establish a cruising pattern.

JP There are more boaters under enforcement now than previously. I don’t think the courts will go in your favour when there are children at school. This is your opportunity to negotiate. Let’s try to keep that here and sort it out.

RP I’m only here.. can’t give something, communicate to families. WE can interpret the law.

JP You’re misinterpreting it to affect us negatively.

AC As an outside observer I don’t see how families can possibly comply. There’s a big difference between 15 and 20 miles especially if children are in school. 15 to 20 miles is a big distance for a 5 year old. It is important as a society that we educate children.

MS It’s not 15 to 20 miles in one go. We can’t prescribe how people move but we understand where boats are sighted.

AC Is it 15, 20 or 25?

MS As soon as we prescribe it we are going beyond our powers. I’m sorry if it sounds woolly.

AC It does.

MD There’s a lot of concern about school holidays and moving in term time. You say there’s no enforcement against that, is people’s experience that that’s not happening?

JP It’s not happening [ie there is enforcement against boaters who move less in term time].

WZ The interpretation has changed.

DC It’s about pattern of moving.

WZ I’ve been told I’m not allowed to stay near the school, my pattern isn’t suitable.

RP You opted to take a boat without a home mooring and you must satisfy us it is being used bona fide for navigation.

MD Shuffling is not really allowed.

WZ My boat movements have been assessed over 10 months, can you guarantee my travel over 122 months will be counted?

CR It’s not the annual movement, the issue seems to be the pattern of movement throughout the year not a different pattern between September and June and a discounted period in summer. It’s an unfair system: neighbourhoods are different in size, smaller in towns than in the country.

RP We could have a long argument about the meaning of “place”. Distance and movement are what matter, it’s all about the pattern of movement.

AC Who prescribes your patterns of movement? Who decides?

MS Data checkers take boat sightings.

AC Who prescribes it to the boaters?

DC The point is it’s in good faith. People need to be able to live their lives.

RP It’s difficult to go into each case but if you choose to take a boat without a home mooring you have to satisfy us … if you think your case has not been properly assessed you can appeal/ explain.

DC. That’s not true. We did explain. The point is lots of people are having this experience.

JP Is a case looked at by a person not a computer?

RP The reminders are automatic. As a boat gets attention the case will start to be looked at by a person.

MS The pattern of movement is looked at when making a decision about restricting it to a 6-month licence.

DC I’d done a proper journey except in a 5-month period when i had a sick child in hospital. That was in good faith. My partner works on the canal, we move to get to his work, is that not in good faith?

MD We should collect a portfolio of cases. Then RP/ CRT can look at it.

LH The key word is consistent. Are you saying enforcement is now consistent? It doesn’t seem like it. Decisions by computer is not on a case by case basis.

MS There is a filtering system.

LH It’s not consistent, is it.

RP There’s an infinite variety of what people do regarding boat movement.

LH Appeals have overturned decisions to only issue 6-month licences.

RP No. Not overturned. We respond sympathetically.

DC Your data is not good quality.

MM There was a change of regime and two years ago you decided to tighten up. You’ve set some new rules and applied them in a way in which you shoot first and ask questions afterwards. That’s not competent management. It is extraordinary that you don’t consider whether there are children involved. It goes against everything I know about proper management and respect of people. I think you would be in deep trouble if that went before a Judge.

PF As a school we have a duty of care to these children. They have to be in school every day.

RP They don’t have to live on a boat.

PF People come before boats. I have 4 year old children exhausted because of the long journey to school and their parents crying in my office because they may lose their home.

TD Because of your interpretation of the law, we are spending money that is very tight to enable these children to learn. The parents are under stress and the children are exhausted because of the journey they have made to get to school. I would love to have other parents like that who make such an effort to get them to school. I’ve never heard the parents saying they don’t want to do the distances.

PF We really value the boater children. The parents ask me, do we take them out of school? They could get fined. It is an intolerable position, faced with losing their licence and their home. They are interesting children. The regime is so harsh and inhumane. Parents can’t always home-school and anyway there are shortcomings with that. You are making it as difficult as you can.

PS CRT is unreasonably refusing to be satisfied that boats are being used bona fide for navigation. We need to be clear about the difference between ‘rules’ and the law. The law hasn’t changed since 1995 but CRT/ BW have changed their interpretation of the law. The Commons Select Committee that drafted the 1995 Act never discussed a minimum distance for compliance and one of the BW representatives explained the test for whether a boat was being used bona fide for navigation (quoting from Select Committee Minutes of 1st July 1993):

“Mr Dodd: I would be happy to have no period mentioned at all and rely upon the expression “bona fide used for navigation”. This is an attempt to clarify in the interests of boaters just what we reasonably mean by “bona fide used for navigation”, what are the parameters, that it appears to be either necessary or helpful to put some indication of what genuinely “on the move” means. I think that to extend leaving a boat in one place as long as a month as, as it were, a test or an explanation as to what is acceptable for bona fide navigation, it would seem to me that as long a period as a month in any one place is not really a true reflection of “bona fide used for navigation”.”

“Mr Dodd: With respect to the period, we were trying to respond to the test for “bona fide navigation” to give some measure of protection to a boater in those circumstances, so that he or she would be clear in their mind as to the point at which he would begin not to be regarded by British Waterways as using the boat bona fide for navigation. A period as long as 28 days in our submission would be too long a period to reasonably be bona fide used for navigation.” All you need to do is to enforce the 14 day rule.

SW There has been an increase in vulnerable people and people accused of not complying. These are vulnerable adults: people with mental health problems, disability, low income, increased stress. They are confused by this change.

MD Are they saying they don’t have the information?

SW They are saying it’s all changed, previously they were ok but now they are under enforcement. Some have had to leave.

MS CRT has a Welfare officer. We ask people to contact us.

JP They don’t ring you back. No-one will answer my questions.

MS WE can’t tell you where to move. We ask them to call us.

JP You don’t answer the phone.

SW I have a disabled boater client who is asking for temporary adjustments, this process has been lots of work for them to communicate with CRT, it has taken over 18 months but they are only asking for a small thing.

RP If it’s the case I think, it is close to resolution.

JP No-one should have to go through that.

RP We want to work with families regarding schools. I disagree with PS. If we didn’t do anything we’d have no boats moving.

DC That’s an extreme view. 96% of continuous cruisers comply. It’s not that they don’t want to move.

RP We have to manage the canals, and protect our heritage assets. Boaters write to me saying bona fide navigation should be 200 miles a year.

PF There has to be some humanity. What is do-able? It must start there. Children have to be in school. How can we make that possible? No-one is saying they don’t want to move. I have 6 boater children at my school, 4 of them continuously cruise. I want them to be part of the community. It is unacceptable for families to live in fear. They are seeing boats taken away and peo0ple going to court.

JL (To RP) It’s valuable having you here. Boaters on the K&A are a community and a valued part of our community. I’ve had to turn many people away from this meeting: school teacherrs, medics, barristers practising locally, wanted to come. The K&A is very quiet in winter, only the liveaboard boating community. We are with this community. We’ll not have members of our community living in fear.

AC I echo that. We want children to be protected. If they move in the holidays can you go easier in term time?

MD Can you put a note on the system saying a boat has children in school?

DC We stick within the range, we are not shuffling.

AC 12 weeks of holidays, that is a lot of time.

MD As long as it is consistent. As you do with disability. The Government is stricter now, parents are fined for days missed at school.

RP I’m not going to be (adept?) to the feelings of the whole community. I’ll consider it. But there is a wide community on the waterways with opposing views.

JP Do they live on the canal?

JL I know that. I include those people in this community, like the K&A Trust, marinas, etc. We can find a way to work together. We appreciate the pressures.

MD People want more advice. What can you do?

MS It’s difficult when staff get the calls but if it’s the same every few weeks they are not going to change the pattern over the year. What hasn’t come up is moorings. Perhaps we can work with the Town Council?

DC There are not enough moorings.

MS It’s not a very easy conversation to have.

JL Other parties are involved, we’ll work with that eg Wiltshire Council, BOA Town Council.

L At the moment there is fear because the rules are changing. We’re being whittled out. It will become impossible to live on a boat without a home mooring and the canal will become something that’s mainly for tourists.

WZ We want to work together. We need to understand, why have things changed? What’s brought this about (to RP)? 1,130 cc’ers are currently under enforcement. What has motivated you to change your interpretation?

RP I don’t think we have changed our interpretation, we are communicating it more. There has been a substantial growth in boats without home moorings over the last few years. The majority of growth, 2000 to 3000 boats nationally, has been in this area, London and Oxford. We need to ensure the canals, a heritage asset, are sustainable.

WZ You say there is overcrowding but on the K&A the number of cc’ers has not increased in the last few years.

PS Let’s put this into perspective. There are around 32,000 licensed boats on CRT waterways. Around 4,600 of those have no home mooring. That’s a small percentage. Boat numbers on the K&A have been static; according to the last two years’ boat counts there are 2 more boats on the K&A; in January I saw 3 additional hire boats being craned in at Devizes so that makes it one cc boat less this year on the K&A.

MS 40% of the boats are on 17% of the length of the K&A.

JP As a boater there doesn’t seem to be overcrowding on the canal. Most of us don’t use the visitor moorings. It seems the reason for this enforcement is pressure from other groups. I would like to see us working together, you valuing our community, changing those people’s minds instead of you listening to the others.

RP Can you in turn accept our authority?

JP We’ve completely changed our cruising pattern.

MM You have an opportunity here, this is a group of people completely committed to the canal, it is an opportunity to demonstrate how you can manage it and look after their human rights: you have a model of a community that includes the leisure boaters. They look after it in winter. You can put that together. The rules may not be arbitrary but they appear so to those on the receiving end of it, the goalposts appear to have moved.

PF In Bathampton a few years ago the boaters and residents were at odds. We had a fair, people worked together which led to both sides respecting each other more. It was a win win situation. A lot of the music was provided by boaters and it was very good music.

RP I’ll try to build positives. We aim for inclusive involvement of communities [housed residents who live by the canal]. But boats without a home mooring can’t act as if they do have a home mooring.

PF These people are respectful and willing to follow the rules. Adjustment is needed.

PD The root of all this is the 1995 Act, can you change the law?

MD I will look at it.

PS The law was written as it is to protect boaters without a home mooring. In the Bill that BW brought to Parliament they originally wanted every boat to have a mooring and criminal penalties for anyone caught living on their boat without a houseboat certificate and a residential mooring with planning permission. Parliament decided that was draconian and excessive and acted to protect boat dwellers, that’s why it’s written as it is, to cater for a wide variety of different uses of the boat without a mooring. There is no need to change it, what’s wrong is CRT’s interpretation.

MD Clarity, a legal change to give clarity.

RP We can have a dialogue about what a ‘term time’ cruising pattern would look like.

JL The next steps, we’re forming a K&A boaters’ coalition; the purpose that there’s clarity on schools, etc. Can we have your support (to RP)? There will be a gathering in the Autumn.

MD People haven’t communicated enough. The issue of children at school: can you allow an element of humanity and understanding and allow reduced movement in term time as long as it’s increased in holiday time? People are happy to abide by the law. It wouldn’t create tiers; people with children are already prioritised in this country in social housing, benefits etc and there’s a reason for that, supporting the development of the next generation. I will co-ordinate cases that were not looked at properly, please give me information towards a portfolio of cases and examples of communications that are too harsh. We need to continue to talk together but look at the issue of children as a priority. Move on from here together.

MM The majority of the K&A is in Wiltshire. The first element of Wiltshire Council’s business plan refers to vulnerable children and adults. It’s a priority. We must follow through on that and support you to get a more humane policy on the canals. It’s a management problem. There are perhaps 500 families affected, a very small number, sensitive management could turn them into a plus.

Actions: All: contact MD with further ideas

WZ, DC, JP, PS:

1. Send MD a portfolio of cases as above.

2. Put a message out to boater families with children at school about what term time/holiday time cruising pattern would suit them.

See also http://kanda.boatingcommunity.org.uk/head-teacher-condemns-crts-inhumane-enforcement-policy-in-meeting-with-mp/

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